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Obama invokes free-market principles to promote clean-energy plan

Obama invokes free-market principles to promote clean-energy plan
President Obama arrives in Las Vegas on Monday. (Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

President Obama cited free-market principles in making the case for alternative energy Monday night, speaking on a day when his administration also announced new government support for clean-energy industries.

In remarks to the National Clean Energy Summit, which included solar entrepreneurs, Obama mocked "fossil fuel interests" and old-guard businesses for breaking with their free-market arguments and opposing the new competition from alternative energy.

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"Pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards … that's a problem," Obama said. "That's not progress, that's not innovation. That's trying to protect old ways of doing business."

Americans are choosing wind and solar "not because they're tree huggers, but because they're cost-cutters," he said. "They like saving money."

In Washington earlier in the day, the administration cited another motivation: that the government should boost clean-energy businesses for the sake of a better environment.

Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz announced that  his department would issue $1 billion in loan guarantees for "distributed energy projects" that use innovative technology.

And Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced that his agency would make financing available for single-family housing to make it easier for families to invest in clean-energy technologies.

Together, the two agencies announced a new scoring system that measures homes' energy efficiency, along with plans to increase consumers' borrowing power for buying efficient homes.

"We only have one chance to get this right," Castro said in a conference call with reporters. "This is the only planet we have."

Thus, the White House previewed two different arguments of the coming "climate season," a four-month period that officials hope will culminate in a strong December agreement among world leaders to fight climate change.

Obama's goal is to cut overall U.S. emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels over the next decade and to encourage other countries to follow suit.

In high-profile trips this month, Obama will highlight the grave risks scientists connect to climate change. On Thursday, he'll go to New Orleans to mark the 10-year anniversary of devastating Hurricane Katrina, and next week he'll visit Alaska on a four-day trip to talk about the melting polar ice caps.

Responding to the threat of climate change was among the most prominent pledges of Obama's second inaugural address, when he said failure to do so "would betray our children and future generations."

At Monday's Las Vegas summit, the message was largely economic.

The American economy grew under an old way of doing things, Obama said, when "we were less worried about dependence on fossil fuel."

Changing times present opportunities, he said, but create resistance from those who prospered under the old way.

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"That's trying to protect old ways of doing business," Obama said. "That has the potential to hurt a lot of communities, and set back America's leadership in fighting climate change."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), host of the summit for eight years, spoke in macroeconomic terms.

"Our electric grid has barely changed in a century, but that is quickly coming to an end," he said. "American demand for clean, reliable power choices is forcing change that is accelerating."

Businesses should adapt new strategies just as baseball did, Reid said, noting that Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane figured out how to make smarter, more efficient choices by using an "analytical, evidence-based approach to assemble a baseball team."

"The Oakland Athletics succeeded because they were willing to adapt in the face of a challenge," he said, recounting the story from the book and movie "Moneyball." "The same approach should be true in business."

Republican critics are not impressed with Democrats' take on alternative energies, and the debate is flourishing on the presidential campaign trail.

In Ottumwa, Iowa, on Monday, GOP presidential hopeful Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argued that Obama's programs are not helping the American economy.

"We cannot grow the government economy and the American economy at the same time," Jindal said. "You have to choose. Obama ... chose the government economy. I choose the American economy."

In Las Vegas, Obama cast the situation another way. "We're taking steps to allow more Americans to join this revolution with no money down," he said.

Other executive actions and private sector commitments the administration announced Monday include:

* Approving a transmission line to help bring online a 485-megawatt photovoltaic facility to be constructed in Riverside County. The Blythe Mesa plant would produce enough renewable energy for more than 145,000 homes, according to an administration document.

* Awarding $24 million for 11 projects in seven states aiming to develop "innovative solar technologies" that would double the energy a single solar panel could produce.

* Commitments from local governments, utilities and businesses to promote energy efficiency in more than 300,000 low-income households.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

christi.parsons@latimes.com

Mascaro reported from Las Vegas and Parsons from Washington.

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